African-Americans drawn to Balto. Co.

Black population grew 77% in past decade, mainly on west side

February 23, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Carolann Morgan knows that 10 years ago, she would not have been able to make a success of her business.

Today, her African-American art store, Carolann Art Gallery & Frame Shop, is thriving in Savoy Plaza shopping center on Liberty Road. Morgan attributes her success to the wave of black families that have moved in along the Liberty Road corridor from Randallstown to Lochearn during the past decade.

"I know businesses that started back in the '80s and '90s, and they actually folded," Morgan said. "We've found a market."

Morgan's perception about the influx of black families is backed up by the latest U.S. census figures for Baltimore County. Whereas a decade ago, slightly more than 1 in 10 county residents was African-American, the new numbers show that the ratio has grown to 1 in 5.

Overall, the county's black population has increased by more than 66,000 - or 77 percent - in the past decade. That's the highest growth rate for blacks in any county in Maryland.

Many of the families are from Baltimore. The attractions: lower taxes, better schools and less crime.

Nowhere is the growth more pronounced than on the west side of the county, in communities such as Randallstown, Lochearn and Security.

The number of African-Americans in Randallstown has almost tripled in the past decade, to 26,000. Blacks now outnumber whites - the population leader in the 1990 census - by more than 2 to 1.

In Security, the number of black residents has more than doubled, while in Lochearn, African-Americans hold a 4-to-1 population edge over whites after adding 11,000 residents in the past decade.

Henry Weisenberg, the executive director of the Liberty Road Business Association, has seen such growth before. He once worked in Prince George's County, the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation.

During the past two years, Weisenberg has helped about 30 businesses get started on Liberty Road, most of them African-American, he said.

"I would guesstimate that Randallstown is Prince George's County circa mid-1980s," he said. "What you have is a black community that [has a] middle class who has moved in and is staying."

Growth has manifested itself in all segments of the community.

In the past 10 years, voters in the area have elected four African-Americans to represent them in the General Assembly. And last year, the County Council redrew its district lines to make way for the first majority-black district.

"It is a recognition of the growth of the diversity in the community," said Kenneth Oliver, chairman of the county Planning Board, referring to the redrawn 4th Council District. Oliver, a Democrat, is considered by some the front-runner in the race for the council seat.

The increase in the number of minority residents is reflected on the shelves of the Woodlawn Library. In the past decade, the number of titles has grown by 45 percent, with the majority being African-American works.

"Interests are shifting, and we shift accordingly," said Jim Fish, library director. "In some of our branches where you see the demand, we have been building up the collection."

Many longtime residents say the population influx is mostly middle-income city families.

Beverly Roane is one of the newcomers. She moved her family, including six children, from Park Heights in Baltimore three years ago to Stevenswood at the south end of the Liberty Road corridor.

"We wanted to get out of the `OK Corral' situation," Roane said, referring to city crime. "I was seeking a better home for my children and a better education."

Yet not all families fit the same description. Marcus and Nicole Moore and their two small sons moved to Lochearn from the Westminster area two years ago to take advantage of real estate prices that range from $90,000 to $180,000.

"The type of houses and the values were just perfect," said Nicole Moore, 26.

The newer families are moving in next to Liberty Road corridor veterans such as Ella White Campbell. The community activist has lived in Stevenswood for 30 years.

Although Campbell worries about increased traffic and crowded schools, she said she has no plans to leave.

"This is a good area to live in," Campbell said. "I consider it one of the best - or I would've moved."

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